Pregnant and can’t sleep? It could be your diet
Pregnancy insomnia is a thing. You’re worried about your growing bub, you can’t get comfy in bed, reflux burns and your bladder is the world’s most annoying alarm clock. But did you ever think your food might be to blame? Bec Norris, Plant-based Pregnancy Dietitian Nutritionist talks food, sleep and stress.
We know great sleep is important at any lifestage, but it’s even more critical during pregnancy. Bec Norris of Plantful Pregnancy says, “Not getting enough good quality sleep can increase the risk of gaining too much weight, developing gestational diabetes and it can even increase the risk of preterm birth.”
So how can we get more sleep during pregnancy and those early post-partum zombie months?
Why sleep matters in pregnancy
“Poor sleep duration and getting less than five hours of sleep has been shown to affect menstrual health, and can increase the risk of pregnancy loss by impacting the circadian rhythm which in turn impacts reproductive hormones, increases insulin resistance and inflammation,” says Bec, Founder of the Nourish Your Pregnancy program at Plantful Pregnancy.
In fact, sleep quality matters even before you take that first pregnancy test - poor sleep can actually influence your ability to fall pregnant, impacting fertility and successful implantation, says Bec.
“Additionally, sleep deprivation impacts thyroid health - a key factor is healthy fertility. Poor sleep has been shown to affect luteinising hormone and oestrogens, all of which impact ovulation, conception, and implantation into the uterus.”
Foods to avoid for a great night’s sleep
Pregnant and struggling to get your zzzs? Bec highlights her top three sleep saboteurs: caffeine, spicy food and tomatoes (what?!).
“An afternoon or evening coffee may not come as a surprise as a sleep inhibitor but did you know that caffeine is also found in cacao (chocolate), green tea, black tea and protein powders?” notes Bec.
“Caffeine does break down over time but can remain in the blood from 1.5 to 9.5 hours. However during pregnancy, caffeine takes a lot longer to break down and can remain in the body for up to 15 hours.”
Bec’s suggestion: Opt for decaf or limit coffee to the morning only.
While motherhood folklore hails a hot curry to bring on labour, that culinary fire can mess with your sleep during pregnancy.
“Spicy foods are a gut irritant which can trigger acid reflux or IBS,” says Bec.
Bec’s suggestion: If you love spicy food and are having trouble sleeping, try a few nights per week without the spice to reap the benefits of good quality sleep.
But aren’t tomatoes healthy? “Similar to spicy food, tomatoes are acidic and can be a little bit of a problem if you suffer from reflux or a sensitive tummy,” says Bec. Take note of your food intake during the day to see which foods trigger a night of burning reflux or upset tummy.
Bec’s suggestion: Try enjoying tomatoes earlier in the day or swapping them for another seasonal vegetable.
I’m absolutely exhausted - how can I eat well when I’m juggling insomnia, a crying baby and life?
Don’t resort to Uber Eats just yet. Try Bec’s top 3 tips for pregnant and new mamas:
- Have a list of quick and easy, one-handed snack combos on the fridge - this can go a long way to reducing decision fatigue and helping mamas stay nourished throughout this period
- Prepare and freeze meals in advance
- Put together a postpartum nourishment plan
“A postpartum nourishment plan will help mamas in the exhausting postpartum period and take the pressure off when it comes to working out what to eat when they’re feeling tired, stressed or anxious,” suggests Bec.
“For example a postpartum nourishment plan might include a bunch of quick and easy recipes, freezing and labelling meals ahead of time, asking friends and family members to cook and drop off a meal once per week. It should also include the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression that your partner can look out for if they are concerned.”
And don’t forget to ask for help!
I can’t sleep and my carb cravings are through the roof. What should I eat?
“Your body is craving carbs because it’s the quickest form of energy for your body and brain to utilise,” explains Bec.
“If possible, pair carbs with fat and protein to keep you fuller for longer and prevent crashes and spikes in energy. For example peanut butter on toast with a banana on the side or an oat and banana smoothie with extra chia seeds for a fat and protein boost.” Simple perfect food to eat one-handed if you’re juggling a bub, or to make and eat on the run if you’re pregnant and craving nourishment for your nauseated tummy.
Stress and sleep
So you’re eating well, you’ve got a nourishment plan, the freezer is stocked with meals, you’ve finally worked out a comfy position to support your bump but you still can’t sleep? How are your stress levels?
Bec notes that stress can have such a significant effect on the body that it can actually interfere with your fertility.
“Stress is a state of real or perceived threat and it can turn off reproduction due to the body’s exceptional stress response.
“When the brain detects stress or daily dangers it prioritises individual survival over reproduction. These daily stressors could look like a car cutting you off, the internet not working, deadlines at work or snoozing your alarm, causing you to be late. When these daily stressors become chronic this leads to an elevated level of cortisol (stress hormone) and decrease in reproductive hormones affecting ovulation, egg quality and menstrual health.”
While we might think of stress in terms of the “big” things - death, divorce, illness - the cumulative effect of those lower grade everyday stressors can have huge impacts.
Tried everything and still can’t get a good night’s sleep? Plan your slumber support program in terms of mind, body and soul:
- Support your growing bump in bed so you can comfortably rest.
- Nourish your body and baby with healthy meals and snacks.
- Seek professional help if insomnia is affecting your mood, energy or daily life. Your GP, a counsellor or certified professional such as a doula, midwife or therapist can suggest tools, tactics and resources to help you sleep.
Tip: Read more about weird tricks and sleep tactics that *actually* work, at every stage of your pregnancy and beyond.
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